The following is a high-level overview of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Strategic Plan for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
For further reading, download the full pdf of the strategic plan for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
I am Barrington Walker, Associate Vice President Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. I am pleased to share this Strategic Plan on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion with the Laurier community. This plan is a result of the hard work and commitment of the Strategic Planning Committee for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (SPC-EDI) that met and deliberated on issues of lived experiences, standing policies, practices and policy recommendations from December 2020 until May of 2021. This strategic plan is also the product of the work of over a hundred individual and small group consultations. The Laurier Strategic Plan for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion charts a path forward to an institution built on a foundation of inclusive excellence.
We would like to acknowledge that Wilfrid Laurier University and its campuses are located on the Haldimand tract, the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. This land is part of the Dish with One Spoon Treaty between the Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabe peoples and symbolizes the agreement to share, protect our resources and not to engage in conflict.
From the Haldimand Treaty of October 25, 1784, this territory is described as, “six miles deep from each side of the river, the Grand River, beginning at Lake Erie and extending in the proportion to the Head of said river, which them and their posterity are to enjoy forever.” The treaty was signed by the British with their allies, the Six Nations, after the American Revolution.
Despite being the largest reserve demographically in Canada, those nations now reside on less than five per cent of this original territory after losing much of the territory to settlement of newcomers.
Laurier’s Strategic Plan for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion builds upon and is to be read in conjunction with the university’s strategic plan, the Laurier Strategy: 2019-2024: Today, Tomorrow, Together. The Comprehensive Strategy for EDI will also align with and build upon the Strategic Academic Plan (2015-2020).
Laurier’s EDI Strategic Plan will expound upon key areas identified in the university wide strategic plan under the strategy of Thriving Community.
The Laurier Strategy in particular calls for an “inclusive community” through “fostering a highly personalized, equitable, diverse and inclusive community in which all members can experience the powerful sense of belonging that has distinguished Laurier throughout its history.” The plan also calls for “increasing the internationalization of the university to cultivate global citizens with strong cultural competence.”
The Laurier Strategy also calls for cultivating a rich intellectual climate at the university “by facilitating the expression, testing, and challenging of a range of perspectives and ideas grounded in reason, evidence, and frameworks of knowledge and creativity.”
This strategic plan also recognizes the importance of Indigenizing the academy and Laurier in particular in all aspects of university life. A detailed Indigenous Strategic Plan is currently being spearheaded by the new associate vice-president: Indigenous Initiatives.
Laurier’s Strategic Academic Plan (2015-2020) cites diversity as one of its core three academic pillars among the other two key pillars of academic excellence and experiential learning. Diversity will indeed be a key part of the Laurier’s comprehensive strategy for EDI but diversity itself is insufficient without an understanding of how equity and inclusion are key to critically engaging with and grounding the concept of diversity.
This plan charts a course for how Laurier can continue to distinguish itself as one of the emerging comprehensive universities in Canada, with a continued emphasis on the student experience and a growing research profile.
One of the key ways in which Laurier can distinguish itself amongst its peers is to enhance our stated priority of being a community-facing university through embedding the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion throughout its campuses and locations.
This report is also, very crucially, part of an ecosystem of earlier reports. It is therefore not the intention of the authors of this strategic plan to erase or otherwise render invisible the challenging work of previous reports or their authors. It is to be part of a direction or a journey of embedding these principles on our campuses.
This report has nine major findings.
Many of our front-facing EDI staff who offer support services for students, faculty, staff (and a few senior administrative leaders) have experienced significant hardship and trauma whilst doing this work. There is ample evidence of the signs of burnout amongst this cohort. There was overwhelming consensus amongst this group that events during recent controversies about free speech and free expression were particularly challenging. This group of individuals faced a high degree of physical and psychological stress during this time. Many felt abandoned by senior leadership and the senior administration; others felt as if they were given directives to put themselves in harms’ way. The university must formally recognize the harm experienced by these individuals and offer supports, including counselling.
Laurier needs to centre decolonization and equity if it is going to be successful in its desire to create an inclusive community (one of the key elements of the university wide strategic plan). Equity and decolonization must be central to the university’s mission. We must move on from our tendency towards superficial, performative and tick-box approaches to equity. It is imperative that we de-centre structures and cultures of colonization and “whiteness” if the university is to realize its ambitions.
Data is key for all future equity, diversity, inclusion and decolonization efforts at Laurier. An institution-wide data strategy and ongoing comprehensive data collection at all levels of the institution is imperative. Data collection must be rigorous, continuous and transparent. Data must also inform all of our initiatives whether in the realm of research (e.g. Canada Research Chair EDI Action Plan, Dimensions Pilot Program), fundraising or targeted scholarship/bursary programs.
The university must take an intersectional lens and bring an intersectional approach to bear on all EDI initiatives. This is key for data collection, institutional scanning and research strategic planning, and strategic planning.
Equity, diversity and inclusion are key values that the university espouses. But in addition to taking a critical approach to diversity and representation, the university must also move beyond EDI to embrace an anti-oppression lens and approach to its work to make Laurier more inclusive. While a general ethos and approach to anti-oppression is important we must also name the specificity of various forms of oppression and develop strategic approaches and training to deal with them (transphobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia). We have considerable expertise in these areas from amongst the ranks of our faculty.
Laurier must foster continued awareness, conversations, and initiatives around EDI to enhance individual and institutional competencies across university sector to be able to create meaningful and real change. We must also focus on academic excellence as institution promoting rigorous scholarship and research that will help to attract and retain those from equity-deserving groups, as well as establish strong community collaborations and partnerships.
We must move intentionally towards further dismantling the siloing of EDI and Accessibility. Laurier needs to integrate the two more effectively and formally as part of our intersectional approach. The university also needs to deploy more resources to the Accessible Learning Centre as there are a high (and growing) number of students who rely on their services.
Currently EDI offices, positions and portfolios lack relational structure, coordination, clarity, institutional planning, foresight and intentionality. Indeed, one is struck by two things. First, the current alignment (vertical and horizontal) of EDI support offices is unclear and incoherent, primarily the result of reactive, inequitable and ad hoc decisions that were made in the aftermath of a major crisis some three years ago. The university has never quite recovered from this and there have been key decisions made before the release of this report that may well add to this legacy. Second, on the academic side of the university, there are virtually no structures put in place to infuse EDI in the university’s academic mission in or across units, departments and faculties. Our EDI support units do excellent work despite being chronically understaffed and under-resourced. While EDI staff at Laurier are to be lauded for key initiatives that have been put in place, there exists no overarching framework through which to coordinate the work. There are also no institutional mechanisms in place for the implementation of recommendations.
The university must commit significant financial resources to the implementation of EDI initiatives at Wilfrid Laurier University in the context of a challenging financial situation. Creative solutions must be found to establish secure base budget funding for these initiatives and this must be a core commitment of the senior leadership team. Without this core commitment, the recommendations provided in this report will ring hollow.
Because Laurier is a postsecondary institution whose primary purposes is serving our student population and the creation and dissemination of new knowledge, the SPC-EDI sought to gather as much information and input as possible from students by drawing upon key graduate and undergraduate representatives.
Students overwhelmingly and consistently expressed the view that diversity in Canadian society needs to be reflective across our campuses whether in terms of increased representation among faculty, staff, and students (graduate and undergraduate); or through curriculum content and course offerings made available to students. The need for a more diverse and inclusive environment in which students can feel a sense of belonging at Laurier was another theme that was raised consistently in these consultations. These sentiments were echoed in calls for more diverse representation among faculty, staff, administration, and students across our campuses. Students also called for more concerted efforts to change existing curriculum or course offerings by providing adequate co-curricular resources which are made available to students (including student athletes) and reflective of the diversity in Canadian society.
Students also expressed serious concerns about their learning environment. For students from equity-deserving backgrounds in particular, the classroom space can be fraught (the same is true for professors from equity-deserving backgrounds).
Many students told us about the difficulties they routinely encountered in classroom spaces, echoing one of the key findings of the Being Raced report. They predictably pointed to some members of Laurier’s professoriate who routinely expressed racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic and misogynist views. International students have reported being routinely singled out in classroom discussions at one of the university’ major schools and being made the target of “outrageous things”; this is an issue that has been that repeatedly brought to the attention of staff who work with these students. International students from China have reported feeling particularly targeted since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
These issues are taking place in the context of contentious discussions about rights and responsibilities in the university community. In several consultations, students demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of the issues of freedom of expression and academic freedom that framed these instances, conferred rights on these professors, and placed limits on direct action that the university could take. Nonetheless, they quite understandably pointed out that even within this context, from their perspective the university has taken no concrete action against these professors whilst it has been much swifter to act when staff or students cause similar kinds of harm to members of the university community.
Students also frequently mentioned the issue of campus safety. Concern about campus safety – more specifically the lack of safety particularly where it concerns members of equity-deserving groups – was a recurring theme. The creation of safe spaces is a theme that resonated over the course of the consultations.
Students also extended the idea of creating welcoming and safe space on campus to food. Many felt that halal food options were limited compared to more readily available options at the neighbouring University of Waterloo campus. Food services at Laurier have, in fact, placed a select number of halal options on their menus at various campus outlets. Nonetheless, we need continued amplification of our communications this to our students to continue to create welcoming environments for students from equity-deserving groups.
Students also noted some of the challenges associated with addressing issues that occur on the campus. They identified two major issues. There was an overwhelming sense amongst the students with whom we consulted that the university was often slow to act or ineffective when confronted with instances of bias, discrimination, or racism, such as Islamophobia or anti-Semitism.
The second major issue related to the student experience at Wilfrid Laurier University often mentioned in our consultations was the issue of incident reporting. Many pointed to the difficulties in the existing landscape (whether real or perceived) when it comes to reporting incidents of discrimination or harm. Few, for example, were aware of current measures that are in place (e.g. policy 6.1 Formal Complaints Policy), nor did they know which department or support unit with which these policies were associated (e.g. Office of Human Rights and Conflict Resolution). Overwhelmingly, students wanted more clarity about policies and procedures for raising concerns and/or filing complaints.
For example, student awareness could be raised by utilizing multiple communication platforms across the university environment informing them of reporting channels and existing resources and supports. More importantly, these mechanisms need to be seen as fair, transparent, and at arm's length from the university with effective steps in place to ensure accountability and action when addressing the kinds of harms students experience on campus, including, again, the classroom environment.
1.1 Implementation of a Bias Incident Repository: The purpose of this repository is to help to gauge our campus climate by tracking student perceptions of bias in any aspect of their campus experience. This will not be a part of existing complaints or restorative justice driven processes but rather a climate data gathering tool.
1.2 Under the direction of the EDI Data Specialist collect, analyze, and track our demographic student data, while maintaining strict confidentiality of personal information, on an ongoing basis. The EDI Data Specialist will develop and implement plans to address differential outcomes identified through data analysis with a view to identifying and reducing barriers to student success and wellness, including funding, bursaries, and scholarships for students/student-athletes from equity-deserving groups.
1.3 More Clarity, Transparency and Education Campaign regarding formal complaints processes under Policy 6.1.
1.4. Special attention and resources (academic and cultural) for international students as a key part of the university’s internationalization strategy. Particular care and consideration must be given to the cohort that is going to grow rather substantially at the Brantford campus, as well as the Waterloo campus and the new Milton campus.
1.5 More resources must be invested to ensuring campus safety for vulnerable students in coordination with the review of the Special Constables. It is recommended that a robust audit of campus spaces be conducted with the concerns of students from equity-deserving groups being a top priority.
1.6. The Senior Administration must engage in a more robust effort with WLUFA to stake out ethical and nuanced positions on the balance between free expression and anti-oppression. Our university must continue to uphold the importance of academic freedom and free expression. Many students from equity-deserving groups also need the university to deal with their concern that these values are, at times, abused by some members of the professoriate resulting in the proliferation of marginalizing speech. This is an ongoing issue that we need to address.
1.7 As Wilfrid Laurier University continues to evolve into a research intensive comprehensive university, its graduate offerings will expand. The university must take strides to ensure an equitable environment in research (and research teams) professional development and instruction and opportunities to disseminate research. The university’s identity as an undergraduate institution, while important, must evolve to make space for the particular needs of graduate students who will be more international, demographically diverse and at a different life stage than is typically true of the undergraduate population. The university must bolster its family support policies to serve this growing group of students.
Staff at Laurier in this strategic plan are broadly defined as university employees who are neither faculty nor students (graduate and undergraduate), nor senior administrative staff (managers and up). Some graduate students are in the employ of the university in their roles as teaching and research assistants. It is also true that some undergraduate students draw a salary from the university in various roles from work-study to student leadership positions. For the purposes of this section the designation staff will not include graduate or undergraduate students who are in the employ of the university.
We held consultations with many staff across the university and we also had strong representation of staff members on our committee (SPC-EDI), who provided crucial insights during our deliberations and for this report. Staff shared their experiences on a number of issues. Some of what they shared are concerns that probably resonate with many Laurier staff employees (e.g. few opportunities for promotion or advancement across the university). However, there were those who spoke rather pointedly to the ways in which these concerns are more acutely experienced by staff members who belong to equity-deserving groups. They noted that opportunities for advancement and promotion are more limited and rarely awarded to them due to a culture of nepotism and implicit bias that tends to replicate the status quo.
While Laurier has taken steps to diversify our staff contingent, more effective measures and strategies must be put in place to enhance our ability to attract and recruit qualified applicants. More importantly, we must give more consideration to how we can best retain new and existing talent; this must become a priority moving forward. Staff who participated in the consultative process routinely articulated a desire for developmental, learning, and training opportunities. They called for the university to work to cultivate the talent of members of equity deserving groups from within the organization for senior roles rather than overlooking this talent pool and poaching equity-deserving candidates from other institutions.
The importance of training was a salient theme among staff members who provided their insights. They called for more consistency in staff training, particularly with regard to holding difficult or sensitive conversations.
Another key issue that was raised during our conversations is that of representational diversity; this was widely discussed as an important metric by which to measure the success of EDI work amongst university staff. When looking at our staff contingent in certain areas of the university, one staff member alluded to the lack of diversity by pointing to the gross underrepresentation of visibly non-white staff at a meeting, at which less than 1% of those present were racialized. At the same time, the limits of over reliance on representation alone was revealed. Representation alone does not measure the potential impact of those individuals on the decision-making process and governance structures of our university. Nor does representation ensure that the principles of equity, inclusion, and anti-oppression will be honoured. Safety was another issue that was raised by staff members, in particular the necessity for managers to providing a safe space for them, free from harassment, discrimination and micro-aggressions.
Lastly, staff whom we spoke to across the university campuses raised concerns about inequities in compensation and resources across the university. There is a common perception amongst staff members that there are huge disparities across the campuses in terms allocated resources, compensation packages and the support offered to, and profile afforded, student-facing support programs.
2.1 University leadership must play an active role in ensuring more equitable hiring processes and creating criteria for hiring and metrics to show progress. Currently equitable hiring principles and seniority principles are often at odds. EDI principles need to be more effectively embedded in assessments and criteria.
2.2 The university must continue to collect, track and analyze data through Laurier’s Employment Equity Survey while maintaining strict confidentiality of personal information. In addition to demographic data climate data must also be collected by an EDI Data Specialist and analyzed in order to inform better practices and strategic planning. Data should continue to inform institutional planning strategy.
2.3 The university must create a pilot to explore the possibility of conducting a comprehensive review of compensation levels amongst equity-deserving groups to determine whether there is a systemic salary gap impacting these groups.
2.4 Laurier must create increased opportunities for staff development, training and learning including mandatory EDI training. This will require significant resourcing on the part of the university for it to have impact.
2.5 Laurier will continue to create spaces for staff from equity-deserving groups to convene, share experiences, and explore career opportunities and pathways for success.
2.6 Implement corrective measures to address underrepresentation. The university must create a cohort hiring initiative along the same lines of its Inclusive Excellence program for Indigenous and Black faculty.
Laurier has had the great fortune to attract many talented high-quality faculty to its ranks over the years. Many of our faculty are nationally recognized figures in their fields. Laurier’s professoriate are amongst the largest and most influential members of the university community. They are also a group that is essential to the university life. They are entrusted with two of the most important missions of the university: teaching and the dissemination of new knowledge. Faculty also engage in myriad service responsibilities (in all universities, much of this service is formally recognized and much not – more on the latter below) and they often support the extra-curricular dimensions of a university education that makes the experience special for our students. But despite the prominence and the importance of the faculty, there are significant challenges that face the faculty at Laurier in the areas of precarity, recruitment and retention, compensation, uncompensated labour, representation, recognition and promotion (to higher academic ranks and senior leadership positions).
Faculty also cited a lack of capacity to deal with issues of equity, diversity and inclusion in teaching, research, classroom management and relationships with faculty peers, university staff and students. All these issues, in various ways, point to the challenges of a “multi-tiered” employment situation that is common across the sector but manifests itself in ways that are also particular to our university.
One of the main drivers of the uneven and hierarchically structured experiences of faculty members at Laurier is our heavy dependence on contract faculty (CTFs and to a lesser extent PTPs). Like many other Canadian post-secondary institutions, we are increasingly reliant upon a number of faculty who are working in non-standard employment (e.g. working part-time, or on temporary and short-term contracts), according to the 2018 report, “Out of the Shadows: The experiences of contract academic staff” (see also Brownlee, 2015). The sector wide reliance on precarious academic labour is endemic and exists in most universities across the country. The rate of precarious employment at most Ontario universities hover at around 53 %. This figure is the result of intentional decisions and structural changes to the employment models embraced by Canadian universities over the past several decades (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2018).
Laurier’s reliance on contingent academic labour is in line with the provincial average. In large part this due to several interrelated decisions that Laurier made about its future direction over the past couple of decades: the emergence of a multi-campus strategy; a dramatic increase in the number of undergraduate students; and a decision to cultivate greater research intensity en route to becoming a fully-fledged research comprehensive university. Rapid growth, campus expansion and greater research intensity over a relatively short period has meant a turn to and heavy reliance upon precariously employed academic labour.
Responses from contract teaching faculty spoke to both the precarious nature of their appointments and the economic insecurity that results, but also in addition to the limited opportunities for career development and growth. They also pointed to the unrecognized and unremunerated contributions that they routinely make to their department and/or the university.
There are also other considerable equity challenges that face the broader faculty (tenure and tenure track, CTFs and PTPs). For example, equitable compensation levels is an issue that the university needs to assess. In 2017, the university made the decision to increase the salaries of female faculty after an inquiry revealed systemic gender-based inequities in compensation. This was a decision that engendered pointed negative criticism from certain media outlets. Nonetheless, Wilfrid Laurier University followed through with its commitment to gender equity and it is now a more equitable place of employment for women.
To date, Laurier has not announced plans to begin to study the feasibility of broadening the scope of its pay equity initiative to include other intersectional equity deserving groups. For example, a recent report, “Underrepresented and Underpaid: Diversity and equity among Canada’s post-secondary education teachers” found that there was an average annual earnings gap of about 14.5% between employed professors from non-racialized and racialized groups in 2015 (up from 11.4% in 2005).
Although we don’t have similar data for Laurier, the perception that such disparities do exist are quite prominent and real amongst our faculty who want equitable and fair pay for all full time faculty to be implemented at the time of hiring. There was particular concern expressed for BIPOC faculty in this regard. Hence, there is a strong desire amongst the faculty for such information to be gathered across all intersectionalities (disability, gender, sexuality, gender presentation are other areas, amongst others, that need careful attention).
Faculty also mentioned start-up funds for new faculty as an issue related to compensation. It is well-known that disparities exist amongst faculties (e.g. humanities departments vs STEM departments). The cost of setting up a lab for pure or applied research in the sciences typically runs several times higher than starting up a research program in the humanities, for example, where libraries and physical and digital archives and other repositories often serve as primary research ‘labs’. In many respects, these disparities are understandable. Nonetheless, we must explore whether there are disparities in start-up funds across departments in cognate disciplines.
Yet another compensation issue that affects many faculty from equity-deserving groups is that of uncompensated service. Laurier is no exception to a pattern that exists across the sector: the disproportionate burden placed in faculty from equity-deserving groups to provide mentorship for students. Many of our undergraduate students from equity-deserving backgrounds frequently turn to these faculty members to help them navigate postsecondary education for a raft of issues, academically and non-academically related. The burden upon faculty from equity-deserving groups is increased for those who instruct graduate students from equity-deserving groups who require even greater support for funding and prestigious awards.
Unsurprisingly, the recruitment and retention of faculty from equity-deserving groups was also an issue that was frequently raised by interviewees and committee members: how do we go about ensuring that we implement systems to effectively recruit equity-deserving and Indigenous candidates? (i.e. the proverbial “pipeline” in higher education). Recent measures taken by our institution in the form of an ‘Inclusive Excellence’ program was identified by many in our consultation process as marking a positive step the university has taken to address equity in representation, and in some cases diversity in research expertise amongst the faculty. Many faculty members, however, recognized that such initiatives need to go beyond merely being ‘symbolic’ or ‘tokenistic’ by ensuring structures are in place to welcome and retain all incoming hires.
Alongside the resources required to support and welcome new faculty members from equity-deserving backgrounds, during the consultations and deliberations members of the faculty took the opportunity to remind the university of its moral obligation to properly support, recognize and promote equity-deserving faculty members who are already here. In some cases, these faculty have been here for decades. With a few notable exceptions, these faculty have been overlooked by our institution for too long and in many ways. Equity-deserving faculty members are rarely recognized with university-wide awards (and we currently have no such awards). In fact, at the time of our committee deliberations it was noted a non-white faculty member had never won an award for community service. This has since been rectified, but it stands that this was true until very recently.
Equity work simply does not receive the same sort of institutional recognition, prestige nor respect of other sorts of work in our institution. This is true across the board. Indeed, one EDI administrator pointedly lamented the “stigmatization” of EDI work that occurs on a regular basis in our university. It is also certainly the case that equity-facing or -themed academic work is stigmatized. This work is often deemed less important, rigorous or objective as it is often disseminated in non- traditional venues including so called low or non-impact factor journals and based on non- traditional/non-western bodies of knowledge and epistemic frameworks. For example, the overall lack of understanding and respect accorded to EDI-themed and -facing academic work was noted in the recent research culture survey produced by Laurier’s VP Office of Research (see Newman, 2021).
This comment effectively encapsulates the challenges that face our community as it relates to having difficult conversations about EDI. There were many of our faculty who expressed a genuine interest in having more opportunities to enhance their own awareness, competence, and understanding of EDI-related issues whether by attending programs, workshops, and training sessions or from merely getting a chance to participate in conversations where diverse opinions and perspectives are shared.
If we are serious about addressing concerns of equity, access, and EDI competency throughout our institution we must hear faculty concerns and engage them in this process. It bears repeating that our faculty members are amongst the most precious resources we have as a university community and they play roles that are indispensable to the university’s mission. They must be engaged as equal partners in the process of infusing EDI throughout Laurier.
3.1 The university must undertake further measures to promote recruitment, hiring and retention of faculty from the most underrepresented groups among tenure track academic staff (persons who are Indigenous, Black, and/or living with a disability).
3.2 The university must engage in preliminary work to set the stage for an institution-wide equity scan to determine whether there are disparities in compensation levels amongst equity-deserving faculty through and intersectional framework and with a particular emphasis on race, disability, sexual orientation and gender presentation.
3.3 The creation of Departmental Equity Committees or the appointment of EDI department representative who will represent the department at the faculty-wide level.
3.4 The university should explore policies to provide contract-teaching faculty (CTFs) with pathways to more secure employment including but not limited to continuing lecture positions (five-year contracts).
3.5 The faculty whom we rely upon to create supports for our students also need support. The university must create opportunities for faculty from underrepresented groups to come together in shared social and networking spaces.
3.6 Currently there is work underway to provide faculty with opportunities to engage in training and professional development on inclusive pedagogy and broaching difficult conversations. Some of this work is currently underway in Teaching and Learning and the Office of the AVP EDI. The university must support the expansion of these efforts.
3.7 Pathways and equitable processes, including a mentoring program, should be identified to place equity-deserving faculty members in positions of university leadership.
3.8 The accomplishments of equity-deserving faculty and faculty members who do equity-facing/EDI work should be formally recognized by the university with awards.
It was important that we included the voices of Laurier’s alumni in this consultative process. The Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association (WLUAA) is a self-governing and administered entity that is formally independent from the university. It represents a community of more than 109,000 individuals who live and work around the world, yet all share the common bond of having been part of the unique student experience that our university offers.
The SPC-EDI committee benefitted from the insights shared by our alumni representative and learned much from the focused discussions that identified specific concerns, issues and needs that may arise when embedding principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion into the WLUAA. Our knowledge was also greatly informed by alumni who participated in the one-on-one consultations and the more than 250 individuals who responded to the online survey that was developed. We are deeply appreciative of the assistance provided by members of the Development and Alumni Relations team who helped to raise awareness, promote, and encourage participation from alumni throughout this endeavor.
This level of engagement speaks to the strength of our alumni community and the efforts that alumni are making to stay connected to their former institution – whether they graduated recently or decades ago. It also highlighted how one’s sense of identity or connection to the institution can be, at times, influenced by the university’s “brand”, image, or reputation in the larger public consciousness. Unfortunately, there have been occasions in recent memory where the institutional response to particular incidents or events have not resonated well with some members of the Laurier community, such as the free speech controversy three years ago.
When asked to think about what WLU has done recently around issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion, it was not uncommon to see responses from alumni acknowledging they were “not sure” or “did not know” about specific initiatives or measures that have been taken. Others were able to faintly recall iterations of EDI manifesting in certain initiatives on the campus, including the use of inclusive language or equity committees.
Alumni who had been able to access information related to EDI initiatives represent the view of many within this cohort sample who welcomed and supported the commitment that Laurier has shown in prioritizing equity, diversity, and inclusion in exiting policies and practices. They noted the increasingly diverse and international student body, the growing emphasis on Indigenization and Indigenous knowledges and the emergence of multi-faith spaces, equity offices and diverse student clubs. Many of these alum urged the university to keep up the momentum born of these changes.
Of course, not all alumni who participated in this process shared such views. Like other stakeholder groups identified in this report, there were those within each group who were critical of or did not see any need for measures to be taken at the institutional level when it comes to principles of EDI. In fact, the perception that EDI constitutes a threat to notions of “freedom of expression”, “academic freedom”, or hiring based on “merit” was echoed several times by respondents taking part in this process, including one alumni who shared that diversity of thought and free expression were the paramount values that the university should uphold.
Much can be achieved within the WLUAA in this current climate by continuing to provide members with opportunities to gain more awareness, competencies, and understanding around issues of EDI and informing them of how this coalesces with broader institutional efforts. This messaging must not only highlight communications, events, and programming that are being undertaken by alumni leaders, but it may also help to challenge some of the assumptions and misconceptions about EDI or emergent debates around academic freedom and freedom of speech that exist in the public consciousness. This knowledge may, in turn, help alumni become better informed agents of change within their own personal realms of influence. Some of the following recommendations may help to achieve these desired goals and outcomes.
4.1 Co-create an EDI Alumni Committee that can explore ways that boards and executive committees can be more diverse and reflective and identify any changes needed to existing policies and practices so as to meet principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
4.2 While striving to always maintain strict confidentiality of personal information, the WLUAA must begin collecting, analyzing, and reporting on demographic alumni data on an ongoing basis that can be used to gain a better understanding of the group’s composition.
4.3 Provide more opportunities for engagement among equity-deserving groups within the WLUAA by offering supports and resources, developing mentorship and bridging programs for incoming/current members, creating spaces where BIPOC alumni can convene, share experiences, and network, or facilitating the formation of different ‘affinity groups’ within the broader collective.
4.4 Develop strategies that not only help to ensure diversity of WLUAA membership is reflected in executive, leadership, and committee positions but also in the advertising, programming, and promotional content that is created and disseminated.
The Senior Administration is defined here as administrative posts that are leadership positions. These positions typically include positions of manager, directors, deans, assistant and associate vice presidents and vice presidents. At Laurier, vice-presidents sit on the highest executive body at the university, the Executive Leadership Team (ELT). This group works most closely with the President and are her closest advisors.
Administrative portfolios at Laurier are many and varied, overseeing the academic and academic support functions of the university. Leaders are responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the university and overseeing for charting its strategic direction and for representing the university and upholding and enhancing its reputation. Administrative portfolios are also highly visible and carry a significant amount of power and influence (although it is worth bearing in mind that administrative posts are also done at the will of the institution, unlike purely tenured academic appointments). The power and influence that members of the senior administration carry have implications for the status of equity, diversity and inclusion in the university community and the centrality, visibility and efficacy of EDI initiatives. EDI and university leadership has several interrelated dimensions: representation, barriers to participation, culture (specifically the culture of whiteness that pervades university leadership) and relatedly systems of power.
Many themes were highlighted during our consultations and committee deliberations. It was noted that the data on representation of equity-deserving groups in Canadian U15 universities was dire and our own situation, though improving, has challenges. At Laurier, very recent additions to the Executive Leadership (ELT) have created unprecedented representational diversity amongst the most senior leadership group (VP Student Affairs and VP Finance). There have also been key additions to the Deans that represent a trend towards diversity. Nonetheless, the breadth of the senior administration at Laurier lacks representation of equity deserving groups. Significant barriers to participation in and promotion to the administrative ranks for members of equity deserving groups is a persistent issue at Laurier as it is across the sector.
One committee member pointed out that while the data was illustrative of the barriers that institutions across Canada face in the composition of their senior leadership, these data were “not surprising” because of the underlying structural, cultural and historical forces that produce these data points. The dominant culture and its concomitant prevailing systems of institutional power that informed how senior leadership positions are filled remain a significant problem. One of the inequities that equity-deserving groups face when attempting to enter these processes is a dearth of social capital. Members of these groups lack the inside knowledge, networks, connections and personal ties that create doors and ladders to these sorts of positions. The curriculum vitae of an equity-seeking candidate also may not seem suitable for promotion into leadership positions because of past barriers to leadership opportunities lower on the administrative ladder and a lack of mentorship earlier in their careers.
Indeed mentorship (or more appropriately the gender-neutral notion of sponsorship) occupied a central place in the deliberations of the committee. “Where do we find mentors?” asked one member of the steering committee. The lack of mentorship opportunities for members of equity-deserving groups was evidenced in the reality that in most academic support units, few could rise beyond middling administrative roles. Further barriers exist for equity candidates from within and without. The lack of mentors and representation within the senior leadership group can create psychological barriers to seeking promotion and the fear of being “the first one” in an administrative leadership space. Thus, equity-seeking candidates often must overcome the tendency to “boycott oneself” as one committee member insightfully put it.
In addition, there are greater and very difficult questions and conversations about whiteness, coloniality, institutional power and university leadership that were raised across all our deliberations and consultations. Striving for greater representation amongst our leadership is paramount, but at the same time we need to intentionally consider the normative culture that predominates and shapes decision-making and institutional priorities and practices.
While a few members of the university’s faculty and senior leadership group believed that we have made significant strides in addressing equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI leadership positions; the growing, albeit modest, presence of international students) there is considerable work to do, a reality that most of the senior leaders to whom we spoke understood and acknowledged.
5.1 Explore ways to provide leadership opportunities for members of equity-deserving groups to encourage and build capacity for assuming department/senior leadership roles at Laurier. The recent Inclusive Excellence program is a model that should be replicated with administrative hires.
5.2 Continue and expand the work that has been done to address diversity on the Board and the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) at all levels of the administration
5.3 Accountability measures must be implemented at all levels of the administration with appropriate metrics to measure assessment, strategic planning and progress. Leaders will be evaluated on their progress on an annual basis.
5.4 All members of the senior leadership much receive mandatory bi-annual training.
5.5 University leaders must make informed decisions on the basis of robust data. The implementation of an EDI data strategy, to be overseen by an EDI Data Specialist, will be key. The EDI Data specialist will continue the work of institutional scanning and assessment that was initiated by the Dimensions Coordinator.
Curriculum was a prominent theme in our deliberations. In the present moment, universities are being called upon to decolonize the education system. These calls speak to emergent and insistent curricular, pedagogical, and evaluative challenges that post-secondary institutions across the country are currently facing. Decolonization and inclusivity in pedagogy in our curriculum lay at the heart of transforming our university. Our university has made some progress in this area. In 2019, the university hired an Indigenous curriculum specialist. Teaching and Learning is currently involved in creating workshops and resources to address the issue of inclusive pedagogy (partly in co-operation with the Office of the AVP-EDI). These are important supports for our faculty. Our departments and academic units also need support and guidance about how to strategically create a decolonized and inclusive curriculum. Models for embedding inclusive practices within courses and for creating EDI-themed courses need to be explored and shared with faculty (both approaches have merit).
We must also continue to enhance the capacity of teaching staff and Student Services to create and maintain respectful, accessible, and inclusive student life and learning settings. It will also be useful to highlight and expand the work done by AVPEDI training specialist and Teaching and Learning developing training and supports for teaching staff, particularly those who engage with difficult and sensitive topics in the classroom, on balancing our commitments to freedom of expression, academic freedom, respect and inclusion. Lastly, the university must continue to engage with and promote the adoption of universal design for learning practices in program structures, course materials, pedagogical approaches, and academic assessments to reduce the demand and need for accommodations and enhance the educational experience of all students. Currently Wilfrid Laurier University can point to a rich repository of work being done in Accessible Learning Centre, Laurier library services, and/or the AODA module on MyLearningSpace to highlight areas of success.
6.1 Efforts to Decolonizing the Curriculum should be broader than Indigenous Initiatives. At this time, Indigenous Initiatives works in cooperation with Teaching and Learning but this should be expanded in a more purposeful way to expand on existing efforts involving relevant EDI units.
6.2 Ongoing assessments, scans and data analysis to gauge the success of inclusive and decolonizing pedagogical practices.
The current decentralized and disaggregated structure of EDI currently poses a great challenge for the university. This is one of the central findings of this strategic planning exercise. EDI work – broadly defined – is currently dispersed over several units including, most prominently: The Centre for Student Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (CSEDI, The Office of Human Rights and Conflict Management), Human Resources, Student Affairs, the Office of the Associate Vice President Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Laurier International, and other units with an EDI focus.
EDI at Laurier is currently characterized by multiple reporting lines, overlapping and at times unclear administrative roles and the persistent overreach of EDI support roles and functions into academic matters. The relationship amongst these units at this time is informal and ad hoc in nature. Resolving this issue is of paramount importance if EDI at Laurier is to have a reasonable chance of success. To date, the EDI Community of Practice has not been as effective as we had hoped in pulling the various EDI units together. Given the freighted nature of EDI work, it is unlikely that the EDI Community of Practice will have the capacity, authority or gravitas to do this important work on its own. One encouraging sign is the cooperation that has taken place amongst front line EDI staff across units and offices in providing training and various program initiatives for the university community. The work that our front-line staff have managed to do in the context of the disaggregated model that exists is important and inspiring. Examples of such cooperation include a recent EDI calendar that highlights celebrations and observances, and in so doing, spotlights the work of various units while fostering a sense of community. The current situation, nonetheless, is far from ideal and not an effective way forward. The university must take immediate steps to create more clarity and cohesion amongst the EDI units at the university, including the following recommendations.
Whilst there is little formal coordination among the EDI units at Laurier, the university also faces ongoing challenges in infusing EDI in its academic mission and in its academic departments and units. This situation must be addressed by creating a framework, roles and responsibilities that carry from departments and schools through to the Provost and the Vice President Academic.
President’s EDI Council:
EDI governance across central and ancillary units:
7.1 Creation of the President’s EDI Council.
7.2 Creation of an EDI Senate Committee.
7.3 Creation of infrastructure and reporting system to infuse EDI in all aspects of Laurier’s academic programming departments, units and mission.
7.4 The Office of the AVP EDI will provide Deans, units and departments support, resources and guidance in order to promote consistency across academic units and departments. Supports will include guidance for establishing EDI committees (and hiring EDI Directors in the case of Deans and faculties/schools) self-assessment (e.g. DEAP Tool), data analysis and climate surveys, curricular support and resources to tackle representation, recruitment and retention.
7.5 Develop effective communications about EDI challenges, initiatives, and celebrations at Laurier. A robust communication plan and structure can foster a sense of coherence and cooperation amongst the EDI units until more formal protocols are put into place.